Imagine hearing a knock on the door, looking through the peephole and seeing a uniformed sheriff’s deputy standing there. When you open the door, the deputy identifies himself and confirms your name, then hands you a set of papers and tells you that you are being sued.
If you ask the deputy what this means and what you should do, he will politely reply that he cannot offer legal advice and that you should contact a lawyer.
When the deputy hands you this set of papers, you are considered served as a matter of law. Service of the lawsuit starts the clock running – you have to take action within a set number of days usually 30 days, but sometimes as little as 20 days.
As unpleasant as being served may be, you must not freeze and fail to take action. That very day, or the next business day, pick up the phone and call my office (or, if you already have a lawyer, call that lawyer). Explain what has happened and discuss your options. If you wait until day 29 after service, you will have fewer options so do not delay.
Responding to a Collection Lawsuit
You actually have several options when responding to a collection lawsuit, even if you do, in fact, owe money to the suing creditor.
- You can file an answer to the lawsuit and buy a few weeks or months to decide what to do.
- You can answer the lawsuit and demand that the creditor prove that you owe the debt (sometimes when collection accounts are sold and resold, the original paperwork gets lost).
- You can try to negotiate with the creditor’s lawyer.
- You can consider the bankruptcy option.
Sometimes, I get calls from potential clients who have been sued and are now finding themselves taking a look at their bankruptcy options. Because it can take several days to gather the information I need to conduct a bankruptcy review, I make available to my clients a sample answer to a collection lawsuit. If you want a copy of this sample answer, please call attorney Susan Blum or me at 770-393-4985.
Remember, that if you do not file an Answer to the lawsuit with the Clerk of Court in the County where the lawsuit was filed, the plaintiff will win automatically – this is called a default judgment. It is not enough to call the plaintiff or plaintiff’s attorney to discuss payment terms or a settlement, and it is not enough to email or write the plaintiff. You must file your answer with the clerk.
If a default judgment is entered, you immediately become at risk for a wage garnishment, bank levy or even property seizure. These consequences may happen without notice or warning so avoid going into default.
A lawsuit filed against you is a serious matter and you should not take it lightly. Again, you are welcome to call Susan or me at 770-393-4985. We will speak with you at no charge and help you understand your options.